Fat Stacks quote from Breaking Bad by Jesse Pinkman

Should you get into a link building arms race with other sites?

If another site outranks you, should you build more links to regain the top spot? If you do, they may build links and the link building arms race is on. Is this a good way to go about building a niche site? Run an online business? Read my thoughts and take our poll.

Arms race

Recently I dropped to #2 in Google for a fairly high search volume keyword for which I ranked #1 for quite some time (2 years+).

The site that dethroned me is a narrower site niche-wise.  In fact, the entire site revolves around that keyword, whereas my site is much broader.

I investigated the other site’s content.  It’s good.  On par with mine.

I investigated the other site’s backlinks.  Again, a good number of links, but I did spot what I suspect to be 3 private blog network links.  I don’t know for sure, but they’re odd links.  The sites are 3 different URLs, but the title/logo for all three sites is the same.  Moreover, the content is super thin and identical across all domains.

That said, my site has plenty of links from sketchy sites; this happens naturally online.

Fortunately, it’s just one keyword of many and while the search volume for the keyword is pretty good, it hasn’t hurt overall traffic (other keywords keep climbing the ranks).

Nevertheless, I’ve lost traffic to what could be gray hat SEO.

What should I do?

My options:

1. Report the site to Google for unnatural links.  I don’t like this move and frankly the lost traffic isn’t worth it.  I’d consider this if it were my livelihood, but it’s one keyword of thousands, so something this drastic isn’t worth it.  I know competitors out one another all the time, but that’s not my style.

You might be thinking all is fair in love and war (arguably SEO as a zero-sum game is war) and I agree with you.  But one must look at the big picture.  It’s not like I lost $10,000 per month.  I lost $100 to $200 per month at most (if even that).

2. Enter a link-building arms race with the competing site.  I could invest $500 to $1,000 in some good guest posts and probably outrank the site.  But then what?  They do the same and we’re in a link building arms race where we both lose.  In some cases it’s worth entering an arms race and in other instances it’s not.

3.  Add more content to make it better in the HOPES it rises to #1 again.  This is a step totally in my control with respect to the content, but not the result.  I may or may not rise to #1 no matter how good the content.

4. Improve meta title and meta description.  I can’t take credit for this.  A reader emailed me this solution which is a good one.  I could tweak the title to attract more clicks away from the top ranked listing.  Perhaps over time the improved CTR will push my article back to the top.

5.  Do nothing and move on.  For a lesser keyword this is what I do, but sometimes you gotta take action and reclaim the #1 spot because it’s too much money not to.

Obviously you can do more than one of the above.  In fact, I could do #1, #2 and #3.

What did I do?

So far, I’ve opted for option #3 which was to add some more content, namely an infographic to attract links.  I also tweaked the title (option #4 from above) in hopes of improving SERP CTR.

I came up with an infographic idea for the topic and had my graphics guy create it.  I added it to Pinterest and hopefully in time, it will attract a few links naturally which push me back to #1.  I may even do some outreach with the infographic to attract more links and submit it to infographic distribution websites.

I will also promote this article to my email list to give it a blast of traffic.  I will specifically ask readers to repin the infographic which will increase the flow of traffic from Pinterest.

While this is kind of entering an arms-race, it’s not costing me money other than the 5 to 10 hours it took my VA graphics guy to create the infographic.

Link Building Arms-Race Variables to consider

Sometimes an arms race is worth it, other times it’s not.  Here are some variables to consider.

1. Links to the article that dethroned you

If you notice the site that dethroned you has tons of natural links – so many that it would be too costly to match those, it may not be worth an arms race.

However, if the links are a pile of PBN links, you decide whether to report it as unnatural linking to the Big G.  This is done all the time.  I’m on the fence regarding this kind of move.  I’ve never done it, I don’t plan to do it, but you never know what the future holds.

2. Authority of the site that dethroned you:

If a major authority happens to dethrone you, then you may have to accept defeat.  Again, it may not be worth investing in links unless you can do it naturally with better content.  Some sites have such high authority that it’s very difficult to outrank them.

In my case, the site that dethroned me isn’t a major player in the broader niche, but is definitely a big player in the much smaller niche that the article is about.  This gives me reason to think I may not reclaim the spot without more drastic action than upgrading content.  However, I’ll start slowly with the content upgrade and infographic and go from there.

3. Quality of the content of the other site

It can happen a competitor creates such a stellar piece of content that you can’t out-content them.  Perhaps they have some cool custom script of something that attracts links like crazy.  Unless you can match that content, you may have to accept defeat.

4. Revenue loss amount

Always consider time required to achieve something and potential revenue.  If getting punted to #2 or #3 spot in Google costs you $10,000 per month, obviously you should invest big into reclaiming that spot.  However, if you lose $25 per month, perhaps the effort required to reclaim the spot is better put elsewhere.

5.  How important is that top ranking for the other site?

You should also try to anticipate to what lengths will the other site go to unseat you in the future if you happen to reclaim the top spot.  If you think the other site happened to get lucky and doesn’t care much about that ranking, by all means take some steps to get the top spot again.  BUT, if that top ranking is an important keyword for their niche, they may go to great lengths (and spend a lot of money) to keep that top spot.

The #1 problem of a link-building arms race

The problem with a link-building arms race is both publishers can end up losing.  You spend $1,000, they spend $1,000.  On and on it goes.  Before you know it, you’ve spent more money than you could reasonably earn back by being #1.

I don’t have much of an ego when it comes to this stuff so If someone outranks me fair n’ square, good on ’em.  I try to assess the situation objectively and only take further action if it’s a good financial decision.  In other words, I won’t throw hundreds or thousands of dollars to rank something just because I don’t like losing or for some other vanity purpose.

How about you…

Would you enter into a link building arms race?

You’ll see results after you take it.  The results might surprise you.


3 thoughts on “Should you get into a link building arms race with other sites?”

  1. Link-Building is like daily arm-race when you’re doing SEO, according to me. Well, the up-down trends of keywords position and website ranks will continue to fluctuate but it depends on the effect it causes to our ROI. And honestly speaking, it feels a lot when you’re on the top and someone dethrones you. Its a showtime for us then to give 1000% of the efforts for organic link building.

    You can say it is my current situation and I’m struggling to get on the top for my high-search keywords.

  2. Hi Jon, great post. Links are basic. But certainly not all that we do for better ranking. Right now I have an issue with high bounce rate (around 85% for one of my blogs). I wonder if adding things for better engagement (as the quiz that I see on this posts) could improve page metrics, and how google see the user behave in the site, and therefore rankings of the page. What do you think?

    • Hi Raul,

      Quizzes and other engagement features can improve dwell time, but it’s also important to know that in some niches 85% bounce rate isn’t terrible. Let’s face, some people want the info and leave. Not all sites are like Facebook where people hang out for hours at a time. By all means test to increase dwell time because that’s a great thing to improve, but don’t sweat it too much unless your content is bad and serving its intended purpose… then you have a bigger problem.


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